Not the game, the result. From a neutral’s standpoint yesterday’s match was one of the best games of the season because it had everything; slack defending from Tottenham, slack defending from Arsenal, more slack defending from Tottenham, a long range shot for a goal, a nutmeg for a goal, an offside goal that wasn’t actually offside, a penalty, and Tottenham fans audibly singing “sit down you pedophile.”
From an Arsenal standpoint however, the game was a bit shit and again defense was the problem but I don’t know what anyone expects at this point. Statistically Arsenal have the fourth best defense in the League but realistically it’s a shambles and is undone with the simplest of tactics. But what, really, can Arsene and Arsenal do right now to fix it? The transfer windows are closed so talk of buying some 16 foot tall Hill Orc to come in and head balls away is silly. We live and die with the personnel we have. Also, it’s not like Arsene Wenger could have drilled the team to play better defense between the Sunday match against Liverpool and yesterday’s match. Nor should we expect that Arsenal are suddenly going to be some defensive stalwarts this coming Sunday.
Credit must be given to Harry Redknapp whose entire genius is in keeping the game as simple as possible. It’s well known that Redknapp’s team talks are simply “oi, you, mark ‘im on corners, you mark ‘im, and everyone else ‘ave a good game, ‘alright? Cheers.” But I think he must have thrown in “oh, and one more fing, try and get the ball up to Crouchie as much as possible. ‘Aright? That’ll be lovely, be a dear and put the kettle on?”
After the first leg at the Emirates, Harry must have had a look at the tape and saw that Kaboul scored against 8 Arsenal defenders and thought “hang on a minute, Arsenal aren’t very good in the air” because whereas the last time Spurs tried to play through the middle of the park more, this time they bypassed the midfield entirely and pounded the ball forward.
As you can see from the chalkboard, Arsenal were forced into eight more clearances from the last time the two teams met and even with Djourou at the back, who was 10 of 15 for all aerial challenges, Arsenal were put under enormous pressure from high balls in to Crouch. Clearances, though, are just half the story and aerial tackles show us another small problem:
Note that in the Arsenal defensive half, they lost the same number of duels as the first time the two met: seven in each game. But it’s the Duels won where Arsenal actually played better before last night:
Arsenal only won three aerial challenges in the Tottenham half last night and if you look at the challenges lost category you’ll see that Robin van Persie was beaten 10 of 11 times in the air on offense. In the previous leg, Chamakh played in the lone striker role and he was very good in providing a big presence up front.
Which begs the question, why doesn’t Arsene play him along side Robin? It’s obvious that van Persie is much more comfortable in the Bergkamp role and it’s equally obvious that Chamakh is a good hold up player. I suspect the answer lies in Fabregas. Cesc is playing where I think Robin should be and Wenger seems loathe to ask the skipper to play deeper in the actual midfield.
But even as I say that, I have to go back to what I said about defending at the top of the page and admit that it’s highly unlikely that Arsenal could play with any change to formation. They have been playing a 4-3-3 with Robin up front and Cesc in the hole all season, and while yes, these are seasoned professionals, it’s a bit hard to simply switch now. Especially since Chamakh and Robin haven’t played together much.
Compounding the problem, Arsene brought on Bendtner who is a better hold up player than Robin and promptly stuck him on the right wing to play crosses in to no one. He also brought on Arshavin, who apart from his two tackles, did his best to impersonate a statue for 10 minutes. You could see that both Nasri and Walcott were annoyed with the changes and Samir in particular took his time coming off.
I know that I’m relatively new to football but I’m really struggling to see what Arsene Wenger is doing tactically with this team. Personally, it looks like he’s appeasing players (Robin and Cesc) rather than playing the best tactics. I’m not even saying that Arsenal should change to a 4-4-2 but just that maybe, given the poor season he’s had offensively, Cesc Fabregas should be playing a bit deeper and Robin behind either Chamakh or Bendtner. If their egos could take it, that is.
But again, I go back up to the top and say, what can we do apart from complain? The team is pretty much set both in terms of tactics and personnel. I know that Gooners are eagerly awaiting the return of “The Verminator” who will come in and smash footballs into atom sized pieces because he’s a superhero but I suspect that even his return will not help that much. The reality is that Arsenal were up 3-1 for a minute or two before Tottenham scored from a long range shot and yes it was a good shot but the clearance was poor and poor clearances have been a theme for 32 games now.
I don’t expect that to change, just like I don’t expect teams to come out and play complicated tactics against us. It’s either two banks of four and catch Arsenal on the break or long diagonals in to big men up front. Take your pick, either one will do.
And now, Arsenal have a 16 game unbeaten run and yet there they are in 3rd place on the actual League table and third place (by goal difference) on the Mini-League table:
And I go back to the central question “what can we do?” As a team, there isn’t much Wenger can do now or at least it seems that way. We as supporters could complain about the fact that Robin van Persie was onside but do you think it’s a sound tactic to try to win every game 4-3 while hoping to get all the right calls? I don’t.
What I’m going to do for the rest of the season is sit back and watch. Arsenal have 6 games left, the title race is wide open now that Chelsea are in the hunt, and all we can do is watch in wonder as the strangest season I have ever seen unfolds.
Just think about it. Arsenal are actually still in the title hunt owing to the big games that are left between the top teams. But just as actually, Arsenal are in a 4th place relegation fight, because of all the games left to go between all the top teams.
It’s going to be a strange run-in, and there are more twists left to come, I’m sure. Try to enjoy it, as much as you can until something can actually be done this Summer.